Both the MSPB and the EEOC afford Appellants (or Complainants) the opportunity to pursue discovery. While the timelines and the amounts of discovery allowed are quite different, the basic ideas of what discovery is and how it should be used are very similar.
There are six (6) primary types of discovery in litigation in the U.S (click on the links below for the particular type of discovery you want to read about:
1) Requests for Admission.
2) Requests for Interrogatories (Topic of this Blog Entry)
3) Requests for Production
4) Motion for Entry
6) Depositions on Written Question.
Today’s topic are Requests for Interrogatory. These are, in my opinion, the most complex discovery device available to you. What they are, what they are used for, how to properly phrase them, how to ensure you get helpful answers, and how to understand the answers are techniques that require experience in the discovery process.
In general, an Interrogatory is a question posed by one party to another party to help understand the other party’s case. Most commonly, the first interrogatories are questions meant to understand the other party’s pleadings; in EEOC and MSPB litigation, there are no initial pleadings to speak of. Generally, Interrogatories can be best used for the following types of questions:
1) Who (did something, had something, knows something, etc)
2) Where (is something, is someone)
3) When (did something happen, did someone know about something,
4) What (does a term mean, are the rules for certain situations, etc)
The “how” and “why” questions that you would ask of another party or witness are best handled through depositions.
Interrogatories must be answered and sworn under oath. Don’t let the opposing counsel get away with letting you go to hearing without a verification page for the interrogatories. You have the right to know who answered the questions, and the verification page tells you this.
Interrogatories generate objections – it’s a fact of life. An experienced trial attorney, in discovery, can see exactly what the opposing party is scared of in their case by their objections to discovery requests. This is more difficult to do in MSPB or EEOC litigation, because most attorneys just throw boiler-plate objections into discovery without thinking about their answers.
Your opposing party’s attorney may be scared that his client will be limited by their answers, and doesn’t know how to cure or prevent that limitation. Your opposing party or their attorney may not want to be candid or direct as a candid or direct answer could be evidence of their liability. Your questions may be very poorly phrased so that your opponent doesn’t know what your asking.
An objection to an interrogatory may not necessarily be something you need to worry about – it is the answer you want, and if the answer isn’t affected by the objection, there is no need to fight about the objection. You can spend a lot of time moving to compel interrogatory answers, so here is the best guidance anyone can give you on Interrogatories:
a) Know exactly what you want to ask for
b) Phrase your questions carefully
** TIP – Have someone else proofread the request, and ask what they would respond with if they knew nothing about the case**
c) Read the objections very carefully, and read the answers very carefully
d) Decide whether the objection limits an answer that is helpful to you or not
e) Be selective in compelling objection-less answers to Interrogatories.
No post on this website is legal advice, is meant to be legal advice, and certainly does not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Information is power, and we are providing this information to give you, the federal employee, with some power. This information is not widely or easily accessible to Federal Employees.
If you are a Federal Employee with questions about discovery before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and/or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and would like to speak with a lawyer about discovery at the MSPB or at the EEOC, or if you would like to discuss legal representation with an attorney before the MSPB or EEOC, contact the Law Office of Eric L. Pines, PLLC.